Archive for the ‘Learning to Think and Work Symbolically’ category

Brian Feldman on the Second Skin (and more!)

January 7, 2019

Excerpted from:

“The lost steps of infancy: Symbolization, analytic process and the growth of the self” by Brian Feldman, Ph.D. (2002). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 47:397-406

“I believe that there is a relational archetype that emerges at birth (and perhaps in utero). This relational archetype mediates object relations (both the internally and externally ones) from birth, and continues to have an influence throughout the life cycle. At birth the relational archetype forms the basis for early bonding and attachment experiences. Bowlby’s (1969) attachment research offers ample evidence that the infant is genetically wired to form emotional bonds with attachment figures from birth. In Jungian terms this could be seen as an archetypal configuration occurring at the infrared pole or instinctual pole of the archetype. At the ultra violet end of the archetypal spectrum exists imagery of the coniunctio: the relational couple. Jung explored the adult form of the coniunctio in the ‘Psychology of the transference’ (Jung 1946), and postulated that this archetypal configuration is at the core of the analytic process. I would agree with Jung that the coniunctio or the relational couple is central to analytic work. My research is an attempt to understand the developmental sequence of the coniunctio, starting from intrauterine life and infancy. Infant observation research has made me aware of the pivotal significance of the coniunctio or relational couple from birth. The mother-infant coniunctio forms the foundation of the later coniunctios that develop through the life cycle, and as we know from our clinical work, difficulties in the early mother/infant couple can lead to later developmental problems. It is helpful clinically to have an understanding of the early mother/infant coniunctio, as this often emerges first in the individuation process.

Author Information

In regard to the early mother/infant couple I would like to make the following points that also are derived from my ongoing research of observing babies:

1. The infant’s sense of agency, his capacity to create his universe in relationship with and in interaction with the significant figures in his environment is fundamental to understanding his development. This principle can also be related to analytic work and our need to support our analysand’s emerging agency in the analytic arena.

2. The infant’s mental, emotional and spiritual development evolves in the context of the early coniunctio. Mental, emotional, and spiritual developments do not evolve in isolation from the significant relationships in the baby’s life. The contextual component of the infant’s experience is fundamental to understanding his development.

3. The early mother/infant relationship is quite fluid in nature. There is an ongoing oscillation between states of connection and states of separateness. There are a rhythm and a tempo to these fluctuating states. The baby and mother undulate with each other in their particular dance. These observations are in contrast to Fordham’s (1985) conceptualizations that the infant is separate from birth, and are also divergent from Winnicott’s (1960) concept that the mother and infant are in a state of fusion during the earliest period of life.

4. The infant’s capacity for symbolization evolves from birth onward. The skin, as the first experience of a container, is fundamental in this regard. Through the experience of the skin the infant develops a concept of inside and outside spaces, with a boundary which separates the two distinct areas. The skin is the envelope in which the body is contained, and it is the skin that provides the points of contact with the external world. The skin acts as a delineator of boundaries between what is experienced to be outside and what is experienced as inside the self. This primary skin function involves the evolution of a psychic container within which thought, affect and symbolic experience can be held and reflected upon. This experience of the skin later evolves into a concept of an internal and external world. Difficulties in the evolution of the psychic skin, the mental representation of the sensory skin, can be seen in the analysis of primitive mental states where boundary difficulties are prominent. In these cases a secondary skin function can develop. The secondary skin function is a defensive manoeuver that helps to contain unbearable affects through the use of bodily and mental processes such as can emerge in eating disorders, sexual addictions as well as in other psychosomatic conditions (Feldman forthcoming). (Chuck’s bolding)

5. In my observations of babies I have been struck by the infant’s need to give shape to his bodily self by pushing his body up against hard and soft surfaces, and by the mouthing of and grasping hold of animate and inanimate objects. The experience of the infant being securely held in the arms of the mother or other significant caregiver, and the exploration of the body of the other, especially the touching of the skin of the breast during breast feeding as well as the touching of the mother’s face by the infant are fundamental in the development of a coherent body image.

6. The infant has a capacity for reverie as well as the mother. The infant’s reverie can be seen as the infant plays with the nipple and breast – the first play object. I would hypothesize that during these states of reverie the infant’s capacity for introjection develops and gradually the breast/nipple is introjected and forms the basis of a primal good internal object. The nipple in the mouth is at the core of the development of the coniunctio. It is the first interpenetration of subject and object, and this forms the basis for later schemes of object relations. This thesis is different from that developed by Bion (1962) and later Fordham (1985) where the mother’s capacity for reverie is seen as primary. I would place equal emphasis on the infant’s capacity for reverie and I would postulate that the first symbolizations are sensory and unfold in relationship and in connection with the mother and are not a result of separation and absence from her.”  

Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984, by Polly Young-Eisendrath (Source Quotes)

November 18, 2018

These source quotes are part of Polly Young-Eisendrath’s set up for the telling of the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: “What is it that women desire most, above all else?” She orients us to the relationship problems associated with the loss of basic trust, and a cluster of associated archetypal energies: the archetypal feminine, the archetypal masculine, the Great Mother, the Terrible Mother, and the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex.

”The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell provides a unique map or template through which to view a woman’s response to loss of basic trust. Basic trust is defined as both a sense of “continuity of being” (to use D. W. Winnicott’s term) in relationship and as the experience of secure reliance on another person to provide for one’s primary emotional needs within the interpersonal field of that relationship. Basic trust is synonymous here with attachment and specifically related to John Bowlby’s concepts of attachment and loss in human relationship.

The attachment of infant to parent is the initial interpersonal field in which the archetypes of Great Mother and Terrible Mother, as typical human experiences, are activated… we need only the images of the Great and Terrible Mother, of the provident goddess and the dreaded hag, to help us grasp the characteristics of attachment that we will explore. More specifically, when a woman feels continuous and “held,” or adequately embraced, in a relationship of basic trust… she experiences herself as an agentive “person.” As members of our species, we are “personal” when we feel ourselves to be agents of our own lives (or “useful” to others) and to be worthwhile or esteemed. We feel ourselves to be contributing members of our species, reflected by our partners as adequate, agentive and valued.

The image of Great Mother, as authority and nurturer, is the positive emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “good.” Interpersonally, it is the experience of being loved, held and nurtured by the other, of feeling oneself as good. We all need Great Mother experiences to feel that our nurturance is bountiful and powerfully good. The image of Terrible Mother, as savage goddess or hag, is the negative and overwhelming emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “bad” and feeling oneself as ugly, mean, overwhelming and destructive. Both negative and positive attachment experiences involve strength and power; both are necessary in relationship, but neither should become the dominant mode for personal identity on a continuing basis. As with other archetypal states, Great Mother and Terrible Mother are transitory identity experiences which are “bigger” then the person.

The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell sketches out in a clear and practical way the problem of identifying with the hag or Terrible Mother. The hag, nag or bitch of contemporary couple relationships is quite prominent in psychotherapy literature as the domineering, suffocating, and overwhelming mother who must control family life at everyone’s expense. Through the help of the story, we come to respect the hag and to see her dilemma empathically. We learn that when relationships reach a breakdown in basic trust, when all rational solutions have failed and both partners are alienated, we should listen to the hag. Only she knows the answers that we’ll restore trust to the relationship.” (pp. 10-11)

The Importance of the Archetypal Feminine

For our purposes here, the archetypal feminine is the province of relating and caregiving. This is the domain of sustaining human and natural life within the human group. In other words, it concerns joining, attachment and involvement with people, things, and ideas. Its opposite, the archetypal masculine is the domain of distancing and separating. The masculine is characterized here as binding off, separating from, and aggression toward nature and human beings for survival purposes. The masculine involves dividing and separating, waging war and making boundaries, as well as analyzing people, things and ideas as opposed to the experience of joining with them. The following statement from Peggy Sanday, an anthropologist who has studied gender-related power differences in over 150 tribal and modern societies, further clarifies these distinctions as they pertain to human relating and culture:

‘One is struck with the degree to which the sexes conform to a rather basic conceptual symmetry, which is grounded in primary sex differences. Women give birth and growth children; men kill and make weapons. Men display their kills (be it an animal, a human head, or a scalp) with the same pride that women hold up the newly born. If birth and death are among the necessities of existence, then men and women contribute equally but in quite different ways to the continuance of life, and hence of culture.’ (Peggy Sanday Female Power and Male Dominance; On the Origins of Sexual Inequality, p. 5.

Because there are serious anthropological questions about whether these archetypal themes of “primary sex differences” are actually universally sorted out along the same gender lines i.e. feminine for women and masculine for men, I do not assume that women and men represent these archetypal domains through their gender identities. Rather, I’ve come to see both domains as potentially available to each gender for both identity and action purposes.

Our story helps us to understand what happens in intimate relations when the ordinary tasks of caregiving – managing a household, rearing children, sustaining emotional contact and soothing and healing wounds are devalued. When women and men devalue these activities, whether consciously or unconsciously, they fall into those habitual patterns and modes of relating which are connoted by the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex. This complex comprises behaviors, ideas, images and feelings that are concerned with escaping the intimacy of giving and receiving care. The negative mother complex is thus related to the idea of devaluing or excising the feminine from one’s identity and activity.

In our present society, men have a tendency to devalue the feminine in themselves and in women. Many feminine attributes are considered ”weakness” in traditional male gender identity. Consequently, men struggle to exclude and differ with women and with the concerns of care-giving in order to maintain separate identities as males…

Since women are the primary caretakers during almost everyone’s childhood years, the voice of female authority rings powerful tones. Men do not simply differ from women rationally or objectively; they often feel what Karen Horney has called “dread of women” and feel compelled to fight the feminine (both inside and outside) in order to experience any personal power in their male identity.

Women, on the other hand, must identify both with the devalued, “inferior” aspects of the feminine and with the powerful projections of female authority. Women feel at once too weak and too powerful in their mothering and authority. When basic trust is low and devaluing the feminine is high, then a woman tends to feel quite wholly identified with the negative and inferior powers of the hag, the witch or the Terrible Mother.” (pp. 12-13.)

“…We are ready, now, to turn to the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell, which poses the question: “What do women really want?” This question, more than any other, provides a guide for us in doing therapy with couples who have lost basic attachment and trust in their relationships. Furthermore, it is a question which can lead us to the liberation and revaluing of the feminine both inside and out, in ourselves and in the lives of all men and women, for it directs us to the very heart of our humanity, to a concern for intimate relationship. Our failures in family making (not to be understood as the nuclear family ideal), our waste of human, animal and other natural resources, our despair about cooperating with human beings in other societies, and our oppression of our own partners and friends all reflect our devaluing of ordinary caregiving.” (p.15)

These source quotes are from: Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984.

For a Wikipedia orientation and brief overview of the story see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding_of_Sir_Gawain_and_Dame_Ragnelle

See also my post on Embracing the Hag.

Prince Lindworm: A Robert Bly Story Telling and Interpretation

January 26, 2018

This is a 38 minute YouTube audio tape of Robert Bly working the story known as Prince Lindworm. The description provided notes this is: “a parable of your relationship with the hostile twin coiled inside you—who was cast away during childhood, who waits years before roaring back into your life and begins swallowing those around you.” The story is … “Followed by an in-depth discussion of the story’s meaning at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference. http://www.minnesotamensconference.com

I will be adding a few comments at a later date .

Standing up to complexes is always very difficult.

Embracing the Hag

November 9, 2017

Here is an interesting frame offered in the discussion following the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: What Do Woman Really Want.

“Embracing the hag’ initially entails coming to terms with what is dark and frightening in oneself so that one can release the partner from the burden of carrying one’s resentment, frustration and despair. Each person needs to recognize and sort through resistance and fear of change, her or his own repressions, and the dominance of particular aspects of one’s own self.

The problem of confronting and embracing the disappointments and frustrations in oneself can be conceptualized as a process of differentiation between the concerns of attachment and those of dominance within the couple relationship. When a distressed couple enters therapy (usually through the wife’s insistence or because a child has “brought” the couple to therapy by acting out), the partners are usually operating out of a “dominance-submission” posture rather than an “attachment-separation” one. The basic mode of intimate relationship is the instinctual pattern of attachment and separation. When this pattern, with its expressive gestures, symbolic meanings and recurring actions, is abandoned in favor of a dominance pattern or “power struggle,” each person feels threatened and depressed on a day-to-day basis. Instead of the two people relating emotionally as interdependent individuals with the ability to see and satisfy each other’s needs, they relate as a symbiotic or fused unit in which one person is “on top” and the other is “underneath”; there is a constant power struggle on every issue.

Although the two people may recognize the non-rational nature of their struggle (e.g. they may say, “It’s ridiculous, but we just can’t stop fighting over petty matters”), they feel it is impossible to stop struggling. Until both people face the meaning of dominance and submission in their relationship, which almost always involves the devaluing of the feminine, they cannot shift their concerns to attachment. Confrontation with the potential loss in their situation, through the therapists’ backing and elaborating the voice of the hag, often moves people out of the power struggle that had been so prominently in the center. This is just the first step in working through the dominance and submission concerns, however.” (p.21)

(My italics)

Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984